Q&A - Can staff member sue us for shouting at her?

11/02/2015

Q: I run a café restaurant with my business partner. We have built up a really successful business with an excellent reputation and have become respected both by our staff and our clients. However my wife has recently taken to coming in to “help out”, and is causing no end of problems.  Last week she crept up behind one of our established young waitresses and shouted in her ear, accusing her of looking at her in a funny way.  The waitress was understandably very upset and walked out.  It doesn’t seem likely that she is coming back and now I am really worried we could be sued. What can I do? 

A: Unfortunately it would appear that your wife has landed you in what could be a very serious situation.  To creep up and shout what amounts to a threat to the employee is potentially a criminal assault and is certainly an abuse of your wife’s position as employer.

From an employment law perspective, to act in such an abusive way is a breach of the implied covenant of mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee.  Depending on the nature of the incident, this could be sufficient for a constructive dismissal claim to be made against your partnership. At the very least your employee is entitled to be paid for her notice period as you could also have been deemed to have terminated her contract by acting in such a way. 

Apart from keeping your wife out of the business, you probably do need to arrange a meeting with the employee and agree terms of settlement so the matter does not go any further.  You should also seek urgent legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in employment matters. 

Robert Williams

Robert Williams

Partner

A Partner and Head of the Civil Litigation, Personal Injury and Dispute Resolution team in Wrexham